Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's success comes from taking risks and keeping a casual yet productive office environment.
Mark Zuckerberg is a technology innovator, CEO, Internet mogul and philanthropist who earned multi-billionaire status by his mid-20s. As the cofounder, chairman, and CEO of Facebook, Zuckerberg redefined the social media market and connected people in ways never thought possible.
Zuckerberg recently topped a list of "Highest Rated CEOs" from online career community Glassdoor. The list was the result of employee reviews over the past 12 months.
Born into a well-educated family in New York, Zuckerberg developed an interest in computers at an early stage. He created his own messaging program at the age of 12, dubbed "Zucknet," which his father used in his dental office. He would create games and programs under a private computer tutor, who later told reporters that it was hard to stay ahead of the technology prodigy. While still in high school, companies like AOL and Microsoft expressed interest in buying his software and hiring him, which he declined.
Later enrolling at Harvard University, Zuckerberg developed a reputation as a strong programmer and software developer. He created programs like CourseMatch, which helped students choose their classes based on the selections of their peers, and Facemash, which compared pictures of two students and allowed users to vote on who was more attractive. While popular, none of these programs matched to the later success of Zuckerberg's development of Facebook.
Approached by Divya Narendra, and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, Zuckerberg began working on a project called The Harvard Connection, a sort of dating site for the Harvard elite. Zuckerberg later dropped out and began working on his own site with friends Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes and Eduardo Saverin. This site, which started as thefacebook.com, allowed users to create their own profiles, upload photos, and network with users at specific universities. Run out of a dorm room at Harvard until June 2004, thefacebook.com thrived, and Zuckerberg dropped out to pursue it full time. By the end of 2004, Facebook boasted 1 million users.
The site began to evolve. At first, it was only available to certain schools. Thanks to investments from venture capital firms, the site eventually opened up to other schools, then to the general public. Early on, Zuckerberg was turning down offers from Yahoo! and MTV Networks.
"The thing that we are trying to do at Facebook is just help people connect and communicate more efficiently," he said. Instead of taking lucrative offers (Yahoo! reportedly offered Zuckerberg $1 billion), Zuckerberg focused on expanding the site to bring as much value to users as possible. But legal troubles from his early dealings with The Harvard Connection plagued him, as depicted in the Academy Award-nominated movie "The Social Network."
Zuckerberg later noted that much of the story was exaggerated for Hollywood. "I just think people have a lot of fiction," he said. "But the real story of Facebook is just that we've worked so hard for all this time. The real story is actually probably pretty boring, right? We just sat at our computers for six years and coded." Despite some of the negative depictions in the movie and the lawsuit filed by the Winklevoss twins, Zuckerberg and Facebook continued to thrive. He was named Time magazine's Person of the Year in 2010, and Forbes has ranked him at No. 36 on its 400 list, estimating his net worth at $13.3 billion as of March 2013.
Taking risks is one of the secrets to Zuckerberg's success, he says; risks that include dropping out of Harvard and forging forward with the Facebook strategy. "The biggest risk is not taking any risk," he said. "In a world that's changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.
With Zuckerberg's leadership, Facebook began to acquire smaller companies in the mobile technology space, including Friend.ly, Snaptu, and Instagram. Facebook continued to evolve, with its News Feed, photo posting capabilities, and information sharing features. The company found itself as part of odd news more than once, including numerous people who found long-lost relatives, a fugitive arrested after taunting police with photos and posts, and woman who found the people who saved her as a baby.
While Zuckerberg may not have foreseen consequences like this, he saw the potential for Facebook to help people develop their own identities. "Think about what people are doing on Facebook today," he said. "They're keeping up with their friends and family, but they're also building an image and identity for themselves, which in a sense is their brand. They're connecting with the audience that they want to connect to."
In May 2012, Facebook had its initial public offering, raising $16 billion and becoming the biggest Internet IPO in history. Though plagued by several problems and heavily criticized for being overvalued, the IPO was the icing on the cake that was Zuckerberg's success at such a young age — he was only 28 at the time. But while young, he was not impulsive when it came to business decisions.
Though part of Zuckerberg's entrepreneurial strategy is to take risks, he also emphasizes not blindly committing to something. "I have this fear of getting locked into doing things that are not the most impactful things you can do," he said. Zuckerberg's attitude and strategy is built on remaining flexible and nimble in approaching business matters. The CEO of a company acquired by Facebook noted that he met with Zuckerberg on a Friday afternoon, the papers were signed on Sunday, and the deal was announced on Monday.
Though extremely wealthy at a young age, Zuckerberg has managed to stay humble. He married his college sweetheart, Priscilla Chan, in an unassuming and small surprise ceremony in his back yard the day after the Facebook IPO. Friends believed they were arriving at the house to celebrate Chan's graduation from medical school, and were thrilled to instead celebrate an exchange of vows. Sushi and Mexican food were served, while Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong performed to the 100 party guests.
Casual yet productive
Wearing in his signature casual T-shirt and jeans on a daily basis, even in major business meetings, Zuckerberg inspires his employees to keep the office environment casual yet productive. He also was inspired by his wife, a pediatrician, to use Facebook to promote organ donations. Despite what others might do in her situation (being married to one of the richest people in America), she has remained self-sufficient and dedicated to her career, while avoiding the limelight as much as possible.
Using his fortune, he became a widely regarded philanthropist. Zuckerberg donated 18 million Facebook shares to education initiatives, worth nearly $500 million, and donated $100 million to save the failing Newark Public Schools system. Joining Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and George Lucas, Zuckerberg signed "The Giving Pledge" and promised to donate at least 50 percent of his wealth to charity over the course of his lifetime. He encouraged other young entrepreneurs to do the same with their wealth.
"With a generation of younger folks who have thrived on the success of their companies, there is a big opportunity for many of us to give back earlier in our lifetime and see the impact of our philanthropic efforts," he said.
Mark Zuckerberg quotes
"Our mission is to make the world more open and connected. We do this by giving people the power to share whatever they want and be connected to whoever they want, no matter where they are."
"We don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services. And we think this is a good way to build something."
"When people are writing nice stuff about us, it's important to get in front of the company and say, 'Don't believe all this.' When they write negative stuff, it's important to get in front of the company and say, 'Don't believe all this.'"
"I mean, I wear the same thing every day, right? I mean, it's literally, if you could see my closet..."